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tv   Donald Ritchie on the 1966 Vietnam Hearings General Maxwell Taylor  CSPAN  February 21, 2016 4:00pm-4:11pm EST

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and without any difficulty at all. but they are paying for the content. if it goes to a new set-top talks with a new gatekeeper, my question >> are they going to sell ads on that? do they have no responsibility for what they have to pay from broadcast? announcer: watch the communicators monday night at 8:00 on c-span 2. up next on american history tv on c-span3, a look back through the years to the 1966 the annan hearings, the first televised hearings on the vietnam war. retired general maxwell taylor appeared before the senate foreign relations committee to defend his administration policy as special consultant to lyndon b. johnson. newsroadcast from cbs
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includes his opening statement, many questions and can't -- comments from senators. first, donald richie discusses the significance of the hearing. >> you brought a book with you called vietnam hearings. what is this book? donald ritchie: it was a book i used when i was teaching american history in the 1960's at the university of maryland. it was this book because experts in the hearings senator fulbright had convened on the vietnam war in early 1966. it was both proponents and supporters of the war, people like dean rusk and general maxwell taylor, and opponents of the war, like general gavin. we could teach this by showing the students both sides of the argument. also, because they were being interrogated by senators on both sides of the argument, so you
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really got to look at what the issues were and got some idea of what the defense was and what the opposition was to the war in vietnam. it was one of the first really usable books that came out. it was not enormously partisan one way or the other way about the war, and that is why those hearings were so important, was because they did present both sides of the issues, and it enabled the american people to hear from people who thought the war was a great idea to people who thought that the war was a terrible idea to the people who thought that the war could be one -- won to people who thought there was no possible way the war could be one. to people thought it was a communist conspiracy to take over vietnam and to people who thought it was a legitimate civil war in vietnam. since we never had a debate over going to war, a declaration of war, these hearings in 1966 were
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essentially the first congressional debate over whether or not we should be in vietnam. >> in a few minutes, we will hear the testimony of general maxwell taylor. what was the situation at that time in vietnam? how many troops were there and who was general maxwell taylor? donald ritchie: why about january 1960, there were perhaps 125,000 american troops in vietnam in 1966, not as many as there would be by 1968, but for -- far more than there had been a year earlier. there had been about 30,000 troops, and in 16,000 advisors. so there was a gradual increase. president johnson did not want it to appear that he was sending large numbers, so he sent troops in small segments, essentially announcing 50,000 troops here or 75,000 troops there, always with the idea that this would be enough, this would be the cap,
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he could limit the war. always the military on the ground needed more, and johnson would have to send more troops. general taylor had been very much involved in american vietnam policy from the beginning. president kennedy had sent taylor to vietnam in 1961 to look at the situation, and taylor had said it was a dire situation, that he did not believe the south vietnamese government could defend itself, that americans would have to get involved. he saw american sending naval support and more air support. as an army general, general taylor did not believe that u.s. combat troops should ever be sent to vietnam. he was totally opposed to that. general taylor became ambassador, u.s. ambassador, to vietnam in 1964. the previous ambassador henry , cabot lodge, came home to run for president, so general taylor was sent. while he was there, he sent regular telegrams to the defense department, state department,
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the president, saying he would -- it would be a big mistake to send ground troops. when president johnson decided to do that, it, in a sense went , against the recommendation of general taylor. general taylor was a loyal soldier, and he supports in his testimony what the johnson administration is doing, gives rationale for it, talks about what the north vietnamese were doing, what the viet cong were doing, the atrocities going on. he talks about the moral situation. he is not giving a realist perspective on the war. but we now know, because his telegrams are now public record, and even his telephone conversations with the president are public record we know that , he had great reservations about sending ground troops, that he believed the united states should struggle on and only send naval support and air support. >> you mention senator fulbright. who were some of the other senators on this committee?
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donald ritchie: this was a very important committee, the foreign relations committee. had youmr. coleman, you had senator john sparkman of alabama, previously a vice presidential candidate, george mcgovern, an up-and-coming senator from south dakota. you have wayne morris, one of the two votes against the gulf of tonkin resolution. morris, who is passionately opposed to the vietnam war. and then you have people like hickenlooper, a republican from iowa. you have george aiken, who is a skeptic about the war, but not a hard-line skeptic. so you really have a whole range of people who support the administration, people who oppose the administration, people who are willing to go with the president, to trust the president, give the president a bipartisan foreign-policy, people who feel the president has led the country off the side of a cliff, that this is a
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disaster, that he should never have done this congress should , never have given up their right to declare war, and so you have those senators asking questions of all the witnesses, the witnesses who are in favor of the war, the witnesses who are opponents of the war, being grilled on both sides. wayne morse in particular is a ferocious interrogator, and he brings up a lot of sparks when he does his questioning. >> is there any way to know at this time what the american public in general thought about the war? donald ritchie: the gallup poll's and other polls we were following with public opinion. president johnson felt pretty convinced that the american public was with him. when he started sending troops in, he had about 60% to 65% support in vietnam. he had won the presidency by a 60% vote. everybody came on board in this case, but of course he won the presidency promising not to get
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involved in the war and send troops. while it is true that the public opinion showed that the public did not want south vietnam to fall to communism, the public was much more ambiguous about this. they certainly did not want to send their sons to fight in vietnam. there was no great desire to have another korean war fought in vietnam. so while there was support for the principle that america needed to stand up for non-communist countries, small countries that were in threat there was also this sense, why , are we the only ones fighting. why isn't the rest of the world fighting? where are the other western democracies? why do we have to pay for this all the time? and of course president johnson by not calling up the reserves had to double the draft, and suddenly that meant that people my age at the time in their 20's were vulnerable to being drafted. men in their 20's. there were lots of deferments available.
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if you are in college, you were deferred, which meant that if you weren't a college student, a high school student or drop out, you could get drafted. eventually it got harder and harder to evade the draft. people were leaving the country, going to canada, going to sweden to evade the draft. the draft radicalized and politicized a generation that came of age in the 1960's in their 20's. it made this big issue, which had been a peripheral issue -- which is they barely knew where , vietnam was on the map -- a very personal issue, a life-and-death issue for them. there is a lot of studies about how that happened and how public opinion, which johnson thought was solidly in his corner, split very much. and split up by 1968 to the point where johnson felt he could not run for reelection. >> we are just about to see general maxwell taylor. how was he received by the committee? donald ritchie: the committee
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respected general taylor. general taylor had a lot of gravitas. he worked for john kennedy, dwight eisenhower, lyndon johnson, had been our ambassador there. they gave him a lot of leeway. there was a great deal of respect for anybody in a military uniform. even if they disagreed with him. but general taylor brought a great deal of american attitude towards this war. people deferred to that. this generation of senators was the generation that fought world war ii, and they sort of saw this as the continuation. in fact, the administration used world war ii analogies, trying to make vietnam into a second world war essentially. that was an appealing argument to a large part of the united es

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